Leading the way

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National Professional Qualifications (NPQs) are aimed at staff in the education sector who wish to develop their skills, know-how and confidence to lead successfully.

School Improvement Liverpool (SIL) is one of just a handful of Department for Education (DfE) accredited providers of NPQs here in the North West.

Educate sat down with SIL’s NPQ leadership manager, Rebecca Lawton, to find out more about the programme, and how it helps teachers progress in their leadership roles.

What are NPQ Leadership Courses?

The NPQs are national, professional qualifications in leadership. The courses train teachers and school leaders in a wide range of leadership skills at Master’s level, and are based on real life projects happening in schools.

Who are the qualifications aimed at?

The qualifications are aimed at new, aspiring and experienced school leaders at all levels. We run a middle leadership, senior leadership,headship and executive leadership version of the course. People can take whichever qualification best suits their current role and next steps – there is no requirement to take them sequentially.

What are the benefits of taking a NPQ?

The benefits are both for the individual and for the setting itself. Most leaders specialise in one area, and may not get to handle a budget, or read the latest research on all aspects of leadership in schools.

These courses cover all aspects of leadership, filling in any gaps in knowledge, and helping candidates demonstrate where their expertise may lie.

This is great for future interviews and promotion, but also helps individuals make their mark in schools – creating projects that have an impact on the children and staff directly.

How do the courses work? How many hours a week do teachers/leaders need to put in?

Our version of the NPQ has been designed around the needs of staff who are already working full-time in schools. We have put the curriculum online, and for each module there is a two-week long online platform with a tutor available 24/7 to support candidates with reading, asking questions, watching videos and responding to the latest innovations. The number of modules increases from three at middle leadership to five at headship level.

For the fortnight of the module, we expect candidates to be online for at least 20 minutes a day, although some do spend longer. Alongside the online modules, there is an in-school project that candidates complete.

The project has to be in the school development plan and is normally something the candidates would be completing as part of their role anyway. For the course, the candidate records the progress, completes a risk assessment and action plan, and writes up the impact and links to the online research for a final submitted essay.

We also hold face to face events for each course, in parallel with the online modules. Here, candidates can meet up with others on the same course and share different approaches, learn from one another’s best practice and get support on writing up their projects. These events can be at the Toxteth Annexe training centre, or based in schools.

What skills will a candidate gain from each course?

The skills are wide ranging and get progressively more detailed as the course level increases.

However, the main areas of ‘strategy and improvement’, ‘teaching and curriculum excellence’ ‘leading with impact’, ‘managing resources and risks’ and ‘increasing capability’ are similar across the suite of qualifications.

The courses cover the basic tools of leadership, from evidence collection and evaluation skills to communication skills, planning and research.

The NPQEL for executive leaders is also a new qualification for experienced heads, looking at business strategies and the skills required to lead more than one school. This advanced training and support for those working in the new era of school leadership across multiple settings has been welcomed by the sector.

For those taking the National Professional Qualification for Headship (NPQH), how much of a boost is it to their chances of getting a headteacher position?

There is an increasing acceptance of the NPQH once again as a recognised standard for leadership skills. For a while, it became less important as it was dropped from mandatory requests, but the resurgence and reshaping of the qualification means it is a really good starting point for those either looking for, or starting, a headship.

Many new or aspiring heads will have gaps in their knowledge of human resources, finance, premises management and so on. The new NPQH covers such a broad range that it has boosted confidence and given our candidates a good starting point for research and further development that I would recommend it to all new and aspiring heads.

Are there any standout success stories you could highlight?

We have had some wonderful success stories at every level. Some new middle leaders have won national awards for their projects and become national leaders in new innovations. Meanwhile senior leaders have rapidly improved outcomes for whole cohorts of students, and we have a massive success rate for headteachers.

We are particularly pleased with our new structure, where a large number of candidates in the same setting complete the NPQ at the same time, with the school using the course as a tool for whole school improvement.

We are able to deliver sessions on site, reducing time out of school, and can link the modules directly to the school’s particular context.

Through this method, we have seen settings rapidly improve, not only leadership skills, but outcomes for pupils across the curriculum, as staff deploy similar strategies and consistent tools, reducing workload and increasing confidence and aspirations across the whole setting.

When will the next cohort of teachers/leaders begin their training?

We close applications for the October cohort late in September as we recognise some people don’t consider courses and training until the school term starts.

We have also run NPQ courses starting in January, as sometimes applications arrive late in the autumn term following performance management meetings. Also, because of our in-school and online models, we can accommodate new starters in the spring too.

The deadline for the next wave of applications is always available on our website and we accept applications at any time.

We have a 100% pass rate so far, and a huge number of those looking for leadership roles being successful, so we are really pleased that the DfE have agreed to continue to fund bursaries for category 5 and 6 areas, so that anyone wanting to do the qualification is able to get funding.

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